Following Putin comments, pro-Kremlin pundits gleefully (and incorrectly) imagine a missile strike against the U.S.
What Putin said
In his annual State of the Nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government is preparing a response to the possible transfer of American missiles to Europe, where “their flight time to Moscow could be as low as 10 – 12 minutes.” Putin said a symmetrical response would not only target rocket launchers; it would target “the territories where decisions are made to deploy missile complexes that threaten us.”
“Naturally, it is their right to think what they want. But can they do math? They probably can. Let them calculate the range and speed of our own advanced weapons systems. That’s all we’re asking: they should calculate first and only later start making decisions that can present new, serious threats to our country and, naturally, lead to retaliatory measures on Russia’s side,” Putin said, addressing the United States directly.
What pro-Kremlin pundits heard
At Russia’s primary state-owned television channels, the pundits who summarized Putin’s address on air took his statements on American missiles as an invitation to determine exactly where Russia’s retaliatory strikes would be directed. In a segment titled “Target Selected” on the show “Vesti Nedeli,” host Dmitry Kiselyov explained that Zircon advanced cruise missiles could be launched from submarines near either U.S. coast. In his view, possible targets for the missiles include:
- The Pentagon
- Camp David
- The Raven Rock Mountain Complex (which houses an underground nuclear bunker)
- Jim Creek (a naval radio station responsible for submarine coordination)
Kiselyov named one more potential target: “McClellan in California, where they direct strategic attack forces.” On an animated map, he highlighted McClellan Air Force Base, which was closed in 2001. In fact, the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command is located in the middle of the country, at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. One of its subdivisions, the Combined Space Operations Center, is based on the West Coast, but it is located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, 280 miles south of the former McClellan AFB.
Kiselyov also took Putin up on his challenge to calculate the timing of a potential Russian missile strike on the United States, though his mathematical skills proved somewhat inadequate to the task.
Dmitry Kiselyov’s “third-grade math problem”
The distance from a submarine to its proposed target is 800 kilometers. A Zircon missile flies at a velocity of 11,000 kilometers per hour. How long will it take the missile to reach its target?
Kiselyov announced on his show that “to cover 800 kilometers, Zircon would take a bit less than five minutes.”
The correct solution
800 kilometers / 11,000 kilometers per hour = 0.07273 hours
0.07273 hours x 60 = 4.36 minutes
But there are 60 seconds in a minute, not 100!
0.36 minutes x 60 = 22 seconds
The correct answer: 4 minutes and 22 seconds
State Duma Vice Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy, who hosts the TV Show “Tolstoy. Voskresenye,” noted in turn that “there is nothing more peaceable than the possibility of a retaliatory strike against a decision-making center.” Tolstoy asserted that any European capital city would be under threat in such an attack, “even those that make the very smallest decisions.”
“Our pacifism lies in what we say, after all: ‘Guys, stop poking us all the time. If some awful idea about attacking Russia gets into your heads, then, sorry, there will be nothing left but a little greasy spot in the end,’” Tolstoy reasoned.
The Kremlin emphasized that Putin did not name any specific targets
In response to Meduza’s request for comment on the “Vesti Nedeli” episode, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov emphasized that Putin had discussed the possibility of a missile strike “should our country face a threat.” He added, “I ask that you turn your attention to the fact that the president did not name a single geographic location in connection with this topic.”
Translation by Hilah Kohen